A Collaboration in Black and White

Greetings!  Time to dust off this keyboard and get back to blogging! 31932250_10214712776625722_8651299963738783744_n

So I’m working on a new collaboration with a fellow Scorpio artist. It’s not music, reiki, or meditation, or any of that although it does hold a lot of good energy.
It’s art.
In case you weren’t aware, I draw….I paint…I’m creative. I just don’t always have the time to focus on that outside of my other creative endeavors and sometimes I don’t share these things on social media.

I’m going to tell you this story for two reasons…First, I’m SUPER excited about what she and I are doing together and second, I also think white people need to understand why it’s important to be mindful of how we incorporate black culture into our own creations. The term “cultural appropriation” is thrown around a lot lately but I don’t really think white folks get it.

I get it.  So I feel that it’s my place to speak on it and give examples. (Side note…more white folks need to be the ones speaking up and educating other white folks.)

Let me first explain how we met. A few years ago I was attending Handmade Holiday at the Living Well in Baltimore. It’s one of my favorite events in December with local vendors selling handmade items. This was before I was heavy into wrapping jewelry and making crystal grids. Dana was one of the vendors. She was selling these amazing paintings of women…mostly black women with interesting angles, curvy nudes, half portraits, big afros and headwraps. They just really spoke to me. The colors, the imagery, the power. Her energy was fire as well. A calm Scorpio (we do exist lol) just standing there painting a new piece while the energy from the completed canvases was vibrating all over the place. I’m an intuitive and an energy worker. I know all about you before you even speak. She didn’t need to speak. I knew she was good people. Deep…probably misunderstood sometimes…but genuine and gifted.20190604_123127

I took her card and stalked her art works for a while. LOL We crossed paths again maybe 2 years later when this time I was vending my Reiki Rocks and Crystal Grids at Handmade Holiday. My grids are works of art in a way. Crystal grids on a painted canvas. Her art tells a story. Mine sends an intention. The same…but still different.

Fast forward to this year. I contacted her with an idea I had. What if we put my grids into her paintings? Or what if she creates a piece with the intention of it having a grid in it? How powerful would THAT be? Sacred geometry inside a goddess’s womb? Sri Yantra shapes inside an afro or a Metatron’s Cube in the 3rd eye of a warrior goddess? AMAZING, right???
She shared my enthusiasm and excitement and we started working. This collaboration is unique. I went to her place to see all the pieces she has. We discussed how crystals and grids could be incorporated to add even more intention to the piece. A few weeks later she brought some canvases to my house and we tried out grid shapes and stones.
We aren’t always in the same room together. We communicate via social media a lot, sharing progress photos, and thoughts. She trusts me with her art works and my crystal healing expertise and I trust her experience with how the intention works within her artistic expression from her experience as a black woman.  

So you might be asking what does this have to do with white people and cultural appropriation?
I’m getting there. Listen up.

Understand…this could have played out differently. I could have met her, experienced her artwork, been blown away…and then gone home and started painting similar images of black women to incorporate my grids into. I could have taken her influence and ideas and claimed them as my own. I can surely put a brush to canvas and paint an afro. I already have an established clientele of crystal grid customers who would love this. I could probably make some money. She’s not the only person who paints these images so why can’t I, right? Art is about expression and isn’t about race, right?

Nahhh love. That’s not right. I was directly impacted by HER story on canvas. Black hair isn’t my life experience. Even though I’ve cared for black hair, twisted friends’ locs, helped take out braids, all that. It doesn’t matter that I have black friends. It doesn’t matter that my clients and grid customers quite often don’t share my skin color. It doesn’t matter that my intentions might be good.
What matters is that THIS artwork that I was directly influenced by is HERS. And she is a black woman. It’s her story that she has been telling through images that look like her. Her experiences. Her energy. Her joy and pain. It’s not for me to tell. If I copied her and claimed the amazing images with grids as my own creation that would be cultural appropriation.  That’s not the energy I want associated with any of my work.

I know people get confused because sometimes it’s not always so black and white. (pun intended)
We are all influenced by each other to some extent. My straight haired self has always wanted to just once have a big bouncy afro mane of curls. Too many hours of my life and 10 million dollars worth of spiral perms in the 80s and 90s was surely a waste of time and money. And people with curls sometimes want flowing straight hair. That’s not really what this is about, though. If I copy a style and claim it as my own creation or benefit from it because now with my privilege it is cool and acceptable to the mainstream, that is cultural appropriation.  If black people are discriminated in the workplace for wearing their hair in a natural style but I can roll up to work in some cornrows and everyone thinks it’s so “new and trendy” that is cultural appropriation.  

I know white people ask “Well what can I do?” There is no simple solution but you CAN choose differently, mindfully, and you can make yourself more aware of the issue even if it doesn’t seem to affect you directly.
As a white person you have a privilege that other people don’t have. Use it to bring attention to these issues when you have a platform to do so. On a personal level, support black owned businesses. Support women in business. If the person sells products that you can’t use or offers services that don’t apply to you, then talk about them to other people who can benefit from them.  

Make an effort to be present and attentive when conversations about racism and cultural appropriation come up. Be the only white person in the room sometimes. Stand up with people and for people who are being discriminated against. If you don’t understand, research it. Google it. Talk about it. LISTEN and HEAR what people who don’t look like you are saying. It might make you uncomfortable but you can’t grow without some discomfort.
Also, when doing any of these things…DON’T expect any applause or accolades for doing what is right. Don’t show up with an attitude that anyone owes you anything for being present. Also don’t think you are entitled to ask people about their own life experiences with racism. No one owes you anything.  But you still need to do the right thing. 20190604_122653

So….back to the art! Not sure when we will be done. Not sure if this will be a new offering of hers or something we present together. It’s still in the planning and testing stage. You know we Scorpios are secretive and mysterious about our creations. 😊

She is Rhed Scorpion in the art world and on social media.  And you know where to find me. 

All I know is that this combination of energy from two very different life perspectives is POWERFUL. Stay tuned!

 

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The Yellow Bead

**Note..I wrote this blog a few years ago when my friend April Sims  asked me to do a guest blog for Black History Month.  I recently saw a news article that was giving statistics about what races were more likely to have friends outside of their own race and I felt a little sad that someone actually felt there was a need to research that.  It reminded me of this blog I had written and how adopting trans-racially has made me look at my world quite differently than I did before…even with a circle as colorful as mine was before my son came along. 

The Yellow Bead 

(Alex in his Korean Hanbok *photographer: Thomas Aaron)

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I sat with my paper cup in one hand and a pile of multicolored plastic beads in front of me waiting for the next statement.  The adoption class teacher said, “Most of the people in my church are…..?”.   I struggled with this because my church is very racially mixed.  But reluctantly I picked up a white bead and put it in the cup.  I had to admit that MOST of the people at my church are white.   I looked down in my cup at the white, black, and brown beads all mixed together in fairly equal numbers.  I was pretty happy seeing that I had such a colorful cup.   The key word of course is “MOST”.  I’m white.  So “MOST” of my relatives are white.   Question after question….”most” of my friends are…, coworkers are…, neighbors are…., etc.     But despite how diverse my circle is, there wasn’t one yellow bead in the cup.  The yellow bead would soon be my son.  He will be the only Korean relative, the only Korean neighbor, maybe the only Korean friend in his class.  I won’t see him as anything other than my beautiful child and my love for him transcends the color of our skin.  But I know the rest of the world isn’t always so loving.

This exercise opened my eyes to how my son would feel in my world and how I take my skin color for granted.  And that no matter how open minded I am, no matter how many brown and black beads I have in my cup, I’m still a part of the majority of the beads.   And quite honestly no matter how often I may be the only white person in the room, at the end of the day I can go to my parents’ house, go to my church, flip through a family photo album, and I will be surrounded by people who look like me.  I won’t be the only white bead.  My son will NEVER know what that feels like.

When April asked me to do a guest blog during Black History Month I thought of so many topics I could blog about but every one of them came back to race and how we view each other.   So many conversations I have overheard or unfortunately had to endure simply because the people talking assumed since my skin was the same color as theirs that I also would share or tolerate their ignorance.  Or in contrast since I am “down” with African Americans that the derogatory comments about white folks won’t offend me.  “You’re not really white Janice”.  I’m not?  I’ve heard white and black people speak of each other as if we are of a different breed.  As if we aren’t all humans.  Some of the things I have heard are pretty disturbing.  I don’t need to recount them all.  It’s disappointing.  I recently heard someone say, “Why do THEY need a whole month for Black History?”  I always cringe at the “us” and “them” mindset no matter who it’s coming from.  Sometimes I will speak up and defend the truth but let’s face it, sometimes you are just wasting your breath.  Some folks just got a whole cup full of white beads.  These folks probably don’t want to hear that the truth is until “THEY” have more than just a chapter or a mention in “YOUR” history book then there will always be a need for Black History Month.  I never really understood why history isn’t just history.  I’m not preaching or looking for approval…that’s just the truth.  And here’s a good one….since the human species originates from Africa then we are all related, right?  It’s OUR history, right?  (I’ve learned that some folks with all white beads (and some with all black beads) really hate that little factoid.)  But hate it or not that is a fact.  I shouldn’t even have to explain that.  That should be common knowledge.

I am a child of the 70s.  I remember growing up with the very cocky notion that we might be the ones to make a change in the world when it comes to race relations.  We might be the ones who will look at each other and see how much we are alike and not just how different we look, yet still be able to celebrate who we are.  After all, there we were sitting next to each other learning.  There we were going to dances and proms together, playing sports together on the same team, riding the bus together, graduating together.  We saw adults dividing themselves and we laughed at how narrow minded they were.

But now I’m an adult and we work together, shop together, worship together, create together, LIVE together.  And 30 something years later despite all the black and brown beads in my cup we still have so much to work on.  We still aren’t looking at each other and seeing the similarities.    I’m disappointed in us.  Not “THEM”….”US”.  All of us.  The bottom line is that even after all this time we still haven’t gotten it right.  We are appalled at the idea of the “Whites Only” establishments that wouldn’t allow black people to sit at their lunch counters.  It truthfully wasn’t that long ago.  And there are a lot of people who still draw a very distinct line between themselves and other races.  They are very comfortable in their ignorance.   I know this blog isn’t going to solve that.  I just know that the missing link is the knowledge and acceptance that we are all one in the same and that somehow folks have forgotten that or just never learned it to begin with.  I have to accept that although I was so sure my generation would change things, I really might not live to see that world.  But I have faith that there are a lot of people out there with multicolored beads in their cups.  And I know the love in our circle is powerful and growing.  And I hope that one day it won’t be odd for some people to learn that my son is Korean and his uncle is African America, his auntie is Mexican, and we are all a family.  We all belong to each other.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  ~Mother Teresa

Love and Light,

Janice B.

More about me: http://www.janicebmusic.com

The “N” Word

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I was working the evening shift at a store in a mall a million years ago and I was ringing up a customer at the front desk.  She was an older white woman….sweet as pie….but she appeared uncomfortable as she stood there looking all around her.  She pulled her purse close to her and leaned in over it as if to tell me a secret and asked, “Aren’t you afraid to work here with all these N….uh….(pause because she was searching for the best term to use)……COLOREDS?”

Oh my……

This blog is about the “N” word.  Okay and it’s about white privilege too.  But let’s start with the “N” word…

I will assume the majority of my readers know what I’m talking about and no I am not going to type the word.  Why?  Because as a white woman (and a human being) it is not a part of my vocabulary or thought process.  I don’t secretly say that word to my white friends in private, I don’t “think” that word in any context and especially not in regards to someone else and as a matter of fact I cringe when ANYONE says it.

Over the past month I have either overheard or have been a part of conversations about race including the use of the N word.  Some were mentioning that there really is no racism anymore and we are all equal so why are black people so “sensitive”.   Some conversations were about how white folks sometimes think they can say the N Word because of the crew they hang with, friends they have, etc.  All of this is bullshit.  (Sorry for the language)

I don’t know, maybe the most recent racial commentary started with Paula Deen…. and then the George Zimmerman trial/verdict really got folks talking about race and the lack of fairness and justice that occurs when anyone who isn’t black is on trial for killing a black man.  I have zero to say about Paula and her dumb ass.  And I’m not going to go into great detail about the Zimmerman verdict and I have a whole separate blog on the murder of Trayvon Martin.  I will say I think it’s an outrage that this man is “not guilty” of anything.  As I’ve stated before…Neighborhood Watch reports suspicious activity to the police.  DONE.  When you get out of your car with a gun and pursue a teenager and shoot him that is your choice.  That is intent.  There is no need to defend yourself if you are in a locked car watching a teenager walk down the street. Clearly they would never have picked me for the jury!

Anyway, let’s tackle the use of the N word first, shall we?

WHITE PEOPLE….I am talking primarily to you.  When is it okay for you to use the N word?  Write this down…..

NEVER

It is NEVER okay for you to use the N word.  NEVER.   Actually go ahead and consider “NEVER” to be your new N word.

“But Janice, you don’t understand.  I have a lot of black friends, listen to hip hop, grew up in the hood, have a platinum pass, work for a black owned business and my coworkers say it, that’s how it was back in the day,  people used to call me names too, have a black boyfriend/girlfriend, blah blah blah.”   I do understand that you think its okay.  But it is still NEVER okay for you to say it.  NEVER.   I know there are groups of white teens who think because they are into hip hop and dress the roll and talk the talk, that they are somehow allowed to use the word they hear so often in the music they love.  And maybe your little circle of “brothas” accepts you saying it…..but please believe that it will NOT be accepted outside of your circle.  In the real world you will get your ass kicked.  This is white people 101.  I’m sorry you missed the class but hear me now….it’s not okay for you to say the N word.

It is an offensive racial slur to MOST people.  Yes black folks say it to each other sometimes.  That doesn’t give you any kind of permission to say it.  And no it does not matter if there is an “a” instead of an “er” on the end.  I realize this can be considered a term of “endearment” to some but trust me that there are a lot of black people who still find that offensive as well.

Another important factor is that even if you don’t understand WHY it’s offensive to someone, just the fact that it IS should be enough for you to never say it.  And please, when someone tells you it is offensive to them do not go on and on with a litany of reasons why it shouldn’t be.  Just respect that it is and stop.  I personally don’t want to hear ANY racial slurs.  And I actually find people who feel they have some privilege to say it even more offensive than those who are just plain ole ignorant.  I know I’m probably going to upset people.  And I know that they will look to my pictures on Facebook, my creative circle, friends and family, and tell me that it’s not the same for me because I have “a lot of black friends”, etc.  I hear that craziness all of the time.  All I can tell you is that as accepted as I am in most circles I enter, I would like to think that it’s because I am true to who I am and never try to be something I’m not.  This is me.  It’s not a charade.  I’m not trying to be anything to fit in with any particular group.  I fit in because I am me.  I am considered family by a lot of people who don’t look like me.   And maybe I also fit in because I understand what white privilege is.  I didn’t earn this privilege but no matter how cool or “down” I am to folks, at the end of the day my white skinned, Welsh/Scottish ass has privileges in this world that other people including my closest friends and some family members don’t.  I didn’t earn this.  I was born with it.  It’s not fair.  I am highly aware of it.  So let’s move on to that topic…..

I heard someone say that racism doesn’t really exist anymore.  And quite honestly in my opinion THAT is one of the biggest problems we have as human beings right now.  The fact that people cannot understand that racism exists, that we are not really “equal”, and that we have so much personal and interpersonal work to do.  Hell we can’t even talk about it on Facebook without people attacking each other.  We keep taking steps backwards.  We aren’t learning from our mistakes.  We are idiots.  We aren’t teaching our kids about respect for everyone and how can we when as adults we don’t even respect each other.  This is how we create George Zimmermans.  This is how we create people who view any black guy in a hoodie at night as a threat or suspicious.  This is how we maintain the “Us and Them” mindset that is keeping us from getting anywhere close to peace.

Let me try to explain white privilege.  I KNOW that because I am a white female I can get away with pretty much anything in this world.  I can drive fast, I can forget to renew my tags on time, I never have to get out of my car if I get pulled over, I never worry about a police officer driving behind me,  I can walk out of stores with merchandise by accident, I can dress however I want and never be followed around a store, it is assumed I speak “well”, I never get stopped at customs or by security, no one labels me a thief or suspect without even knowing me, etc., etc.,…the list goes on and on.  THIS is white privilege.  Because my skin is white I never have to experience what my African American friends, colleagues, and family deal with every day in this country.  Yes…MAYBE if I am up in the midst of a situation with them I might be treated as they are.  But the difference is I don’t have to be there.  I can turn around and go on about my white way and for the most part not ever have to worry about being treated with disrespect, unfairness, injustice ever again.  I have that choice.  I have that privilege.  It’s real.  If your skin is white you need to realize and own this.  THIS is white privilege.

Because of this, you really should be much more sensitive to the fact that people of other races do not experience this freedom that you do.  I think this is difficult for a lot of white people to grasp because in doing so they feel that they personally are being blamed for whatever situation is on the table at the moment and they get defensive.  And in a sense it is partially our fault if we don’t SEE that there is a difference in the way people are treated.  Once you see it happening, accept it is real, and change YOUR actions and perceptions, then there is a ripple in the water…a movement toward change.  It’s not an “overnight, let’s sign an official document, make a law,” kind of change.  It’s a change that comes from inside of all of us.  It’s a shift in the culture that won’t happen easily if it can happen at all.

My friend Ellen Gee* posted a photo on her Facebook page of a T-shirt that Adidas was selling.  It was displayed on a black faceless mannequin and it said “Run Like You Took Something”.  (By the way this was right after Adidas had those sneakers out with the shackles around the ankles and everyone was outraged.)

adidas shirt

There were a million comments on the thread under this picture, some amazed, some confused, some not surprised a bit, but one white man was going off on my friend.  “Why is everything about race?  “Why are we still having these conversations?” “I’m a white man who once lost a job to affirmative action” “I’ve been discriminated against just like you have” “We have bigger problems in the world than a black mannequin” “Quit playing the race card”…on and on and on.

This was my friend’s page. She is black.  She was offended by the shirt and the choice of color of the mannequin.   Yes everyone is entitled to their opinion.  But instead of TELLING her why it shouldn’t be offensive to her and even ridiculing her…maybe we should LISTEN to why she (and everyone else commenting) feels offended if it isn’t already clear to you.  Try for a second to put yourself in that person’s place.  How did it feel to you sir, the ONE time you lost a job to an African American because of race?  Were you feeling angry, sad, helpless, less valuable, etc??  Did you feel isolated and not accepted?  Can you imagine feeling that way on the regular?

I posted a reply to the thread comments going back and forth that day.  This is what I said….

“I personally don’t think ANY white person gets to say what is offensive to a black person. Just like anyone with a penis doesn’t get to tell me about whether or not I’ve been “legitimately raped” or what to do about the child I am carrying. It’s not about white folks. I can get followed around in stores every day for the rest of my life and it will never equal the racism, prejudice, and racial profiling that black people deal with 24/7. I’ve seen it. My friends live it. Yeah I’ve been discriminated against in my life. But when the police pull me over 98% of the time it’s friendly and I drive away with a warning. I never have to get out of the car. I could walk out of a store accidently carrying an unpaid for item and the clerk would probably run out after me and I could laugh it off as a mistake. No security need be called to follow me around the mall. No one ever comments that I “speak really well” for a white person. No one ever says “there goes the neighborhood” when I move in. People don’t cross the street when a few of my white friends and I are walking in a group towards them. Old ladies don’t clutch their purses close to them when I get on the elevator. It’s a privilege that I was born with….I didn’t earn it. It’s not fair but it is the truth. Yes there are bigggg problems going on in this world. The economy, the school systems, health care, etc. But that doesn’t change or minimize racism. That’s a whole different thing. And unless you live it every day with a skin color that for a lot of folks has branded you a thief, guilty, suspect, etc. then you can’t truly ever understand.”

Obviously I don’t have a brilliant solution for any of this.  As artists we write…we sing…we try to reach people to create some positive movement. Every time I think we are making a difference and opening minds through art and music, something happens that sets us all back again.  It makes me sick.  I don’t know what we can do other than LISTEN to each other without being defensive and TALK about what we can change in our own hearts and lives to create the shift that is needed to move a little closer to peace.

All we have is each other.  What affects one of us will ultimately in turn affect all of us.  Have you been affected enough yet?

Love and Light,

Janice B.

https://http://www.janicebmusic.com

*More About Ellen Gee: https://www.facebook.com/Ellengee.Evolves

Ellen Gee, Janice B., and Romel Moralez during the shoot of “Feeling Fine”

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